worship with masks

Among the many areas of life disrupted by the COVID pandemic are the worship practices of Christians throughout the world. Believers have been forced to worship God in ways that feel unnatural to us. For months, we have sat in front of computer screens, following a service from home. Now, as congregations begin to gather again, we find that worship is still not what we would have preferred. Faces are masked. Singing is limited. Services are held in parks or parking lots. Communion elements are packaged in plastic containers. We sit six feet away from dear friends and greet each other with an awkward wave.    

How should we feel about all this? We should rejoice. Why? Because, Church, this is our chance to shine.

Christians right now are faced with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to demonstrate to the world that we do not worship our Savior out of tradition or merely to feel an emotional high. We worship Jesus because he is altogether worthy of praise. He is worthy of our worship, even though we cannot worship in the ordinary ways.

I have been thinking lately about people in the Bible who, because of circumstances, were kept from worshiping God in the ways they might have preferred, yet who worshiped him anyway.

Here are some of the people I thought of:

  • Noah – offering a burnt sacrifice in a muddy, flood-soaked world (Gen. 8).
  • Miriam and her Hebrew sisters – dancing and singing to the LORD, though surrounded by miles of desert (Ex. 15).
  • Job – saying, “May the name of the LORD be praised,” on the most tragic day of his life (Job 1).
  • Hannah – worshiping the LORD, early in the morning, though her prayer for a child was still unanswered (1 Sam. 1).
  • David – composing a song of praise while hiding from Saul in a cave (Ps. 57).
  • Jonah – lifting a prayer of thanksgiving from the belly of a fish (Jon. 2).
  • Daniel – keeping to his rhythm of daily prayer, though he knew praying might get him killed (Dan. 6).
  • Zerubbabel and the returned exiles – erecting an altar among the ruins of the temple, even though surrounded by enemies (Ezra 3).
  • Paul and Barnabas – singing their hearts out to God out while enchained in a dungeon (Acts 16).
  • John – “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” though exiled to the Island of Patmos (Rev. 1).
  • Jesus – singing a hymn with his friends, knowing that death was just hours away (Mk. 14).

All of these acts of worship took place in less-than-ideal circumstances. Yet we do not look back on them as moments of failure. We look back on them with awe. We rejoice that God’s people kept praising their Lord, even when praise was inconvenient.

I believe that we are faced right now with an opportunity to add our names to this list. Rather than complaining that a worship experience is not to our liking or opting to sit things out until the virus is gone, we can rejoice that we have a chance to demonstrate to the Lord the depth of our gratitude for his mercy. For the time-being, we may not be able to engage in ordinary worship, but we can experience something even better – extra-ordinary worship. We can know the joy of delighting in God even in unusual times.